A dance of victory in battle. Traditionally, ancient warriors and clansmen performed this dance on a small round shield called a targe, which they carried into battle. One can understand the quick footwork and dexterity of the dancer when it is noted that most targes had a pinpoint-sharp spike of steel projecting some five or six inches from its center. A false or careless step could be more than a little painful.
The Seann Truibhas
Pronounced “shawn trews”, in the Gaelic language, it translates into English as “old trousers”. The dance has obscure origins; the movements definitely depict a person in the act of shedding his breeks (britches), and the tradition is that of a Highlander impatient to get rid of the unfamiliar garment and get back to the freedom of his native Highland kilt.
The Sword Dance (AKA Ghillie Calum)
No highland dance is older or better known than the Ghillie Calum, or Sword Dance.Some suggest that Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, who ruled the country between 1054 and 1096, created the dance. In 1054 Malcolm Canmore began the military campaign that Macbeth made famous. Malcolm, supported by the Earl of Northumbria, was able to force territorial concessions from Macbeth at the bloody battle of Dunsinane on 24 July, 1054. After the success, Malcolm is believed to have placed his own sword on top of that of his enemy in the form of a cross and danced triumphant over them.
Others suggest that warriors danced the Sword Dance the night before battle. If the dancer touched the sword, the dancer would be wounded the next day, but if a dancer kicked the sword, he would be killed.
The dance is performed today to the pipe tune Ghillie Calum with two or more slow steps followed by one or two quick steps. If a dancer touches a sword (but not displaces it in competition), the dancer loses five marks. However, if the dancer displaces the sword, s/he is disqualified.
The Reel of Tulloch
There are several types of ‘group’ dances performed by Highland Dancers. They include:
Strathspey and Half Tulloch
Strathspey and Highland Reel
Strathspey and Highland Reel and Half Tulloch
A Strathspey is performed by four dancers, initially beginning in a line, and dancing a ‘figure of eight’—although the formation actually uses three loops–to a suitable strathspey tune. A quicker Highland Reel (using the same formation) or Tulloch (with dancers taking turns doing steps and turning with linked arms) follows the Strathspey.
The Reel of Tulloch or Hullachan refers to a dance performed outside a cottage. This Reel is thought to have originated in the Churchyard, where on a cold winter’s Sunday a Minister was late for his service – parishioners tried to keep warm by clapping their hands and stamping their feet.
The Irish Jig
A dance which may seem somewhat out of place at a Scottish event, this jig is not popular only in Ireland. It is also popular, even traditional, in Scotland. The jig danced here, however, is meant to be a parody of an Irishman/woman in an agitated state of mind. While the steps are traditional, the arm movements are not; they are an intrinsic part of Scottish dancing, and we thus added to this jig in a humorous salute to our Celtic brethren across the Irish Sea.
The Sailor’s Hornpipe
Originally an ancient dance common in much of Britain, its name derives from the “horn pipe”, an instrument much like the modern tin flute, which accompanied the dance. In time, the dance became so popular among seafaring men that it became known as the “sailor’s hornpipe”. Now it is performed in nautical costume and imitates many typical shipboard activities such as rope hauling, climbing the shroud lines, and others.
Scottish National Dances
Blue Bonnets, Scottish Lilt, Highland Laddie, The Earl of Errol, Flora MacDonald’s Fancy and Village Maid are known as the Scottish National Dances. Attire worn by women is different than for the Traditional dances (Sword Dance, Highland Fling, etc). Dancers commonly wear a white dress with tartan plaid, or full tartan skirt, white blouse and a vest. Known as Aboyne Dress, it originated at the Aboyne Highland Games in Scotland where the wearing of the kilt and dancing of the stronger traditional dancers was strictly forbidden for women. These dances are gentler, more flowing and more graceful, but still require a lot of skill to execute correctly.